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More than half a million NHS employees will be encouraged to consider an alcohol-free start to 2015.

At least 212 NHS organisations including hospitals and ambulance services have signed-up to Dry January and are actively helping their staff to consider giving up drink at the start of the new year.

A whole host of resources will be available to help from wristbands and pledge posters to a social media campaign.

Dry January 2015 will see a major increase on the 30 NHS organisations in last year’s pilot, expanding its outreach from 140,000 to 600,000 NHS employees – about half of the entire health service. All will receive non-judgemental encouragement, advice and support about drinking less.

The NHS Employers organisation is leading the programme, with funding from Public Health England, to help the NHS participate in Alcohol Concern’s annual national Dry January campaign. The resources being provided to the NHS include:

  • Top tips
  • Guides for NHS organisations on supporting Dry January with social media and other campaigning
  • Reminder wristbands
  • Pledge posters
  • Motivational wall charts
  • Q&A sessions online
  • Evidence and analysis

Alcohol use among NHS staff is thought to be typical of the wider UK population. However the NHS is at the forefront of public health, so intends to take a leading position on staff health and wellbeing. This goal was spelled-out in the NHS Five Year Forward View launched by NHS England in October 2014.

Programmes and policies on NHS staff health and wellbeing are currently increasing in quantity and quality. The benefits are demonstrated by quality evidence to include better morale, improved efficiency and patients receiving a better experience of healthcare.

Sue Covill, director of employment services at the NHS Employers organisation, says: “We want NHS staff to enjoy their Christmas and New Year celebrations as much as anyone else and, for many, this will include alcohol. At the same time on-duty colleagues will be tackling the consequences of alcohol mis-use, either by helping intoxicated patients in A&E or by addressing long-term problems like liver sclerosis, cancer, poor mental health or heart disease. It is a compelling contrast.

“Even a mild drinking habit can lead to health problems in the future. NHS staff are fairly typical consumers of alcohol but they know the public looks to them for guidance and they see the harm alcohol does to thousands of patients. They are in a very special position where small changes to their own lifestyle can be communicated to others to inspire them – including reducing alcohol use. It’s entirely their own choice, of course, and they will be supported by the ever-increasing range and quality of NHS staff health and wellbeing programmes.”

Jackie Ballard, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, adds: “It’s great to see the NHS leading by example and taking up our Dry January challenge. Dry January is all about starting a new and honest conversation about our drinking and it makes perfect sense for health care professionals and other NHS employees to be leading the way.

“Research has shown that people will feel better, sleep better, save money and they may also lose weight by going alcohol free for the month.”

Findings from Alcohol Concern’s national Dry January campaign this year included:

  • 72% of participants had sustained reduced levels of harmful drinking six months after completing Dry January.
  • The 23% of people who had “harmful” alcohol consumption when they started Dry January are now in the “low risk” category.
  • Four per cent of participants were still dry six months on.

Long-term alcohol use is a serious health risk and lost productivity and absenteeism due to alcohol costs the economy 17 million working days and £7 billion a year (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2010).

Drinking within the Chief Medical Officer’s lower risk guidelines can significantly reduce risk of cancer, liver damage, heart disease and other serious health risks. But even a short-term period without alcohol can have many benefits including: improved sleep, weight loss, improved skin and hair quality, and saving money.
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